Rockefeller Remarks at Commerce Committee Summit on Need to Reduce Distracted Driving

February 6, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today lead the final roundtable at the Senate Commerce Committee summit titled, "Over-Connected and Behind the Wheel: A Summit on Technological Solutions to Distracted Driving." The daylong summit explored how technology can be used to minimize distracted driving, which has become a major public safety concern in recent years.

The summit consisted of three roundtable discussions on the potential for technology to encourage the distractable driver to focus on driving. Rockefeller opened the final roundtable on current and potential technology that can limit distractions and focus the driver on the road.

Prepared Opening Remarks – Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman 

“Over-Connected and Behind the Wheel: A Summit on Technological Solutions to Distracted Driving”

Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 2:45 p.m.

JDR Head ShotI want to thank you all for coming and for spending your day talking about this vital public-safety issue. I understand that you had a productive conversation this morning, and I look forward to continuing the discussion.

This is a roundtable, not a hearing, so we will not use clocks or provide for opening statements. I’m going to say a few words now to hopefully kick off the conversation. As my colleagues come in, I will ask them to join the conversation and will recognize them if they want the opportunity to speak for a minute or two.

Distracted driving has been a growing concern for me. While distractions have always been present in the car, constant access to technology is changing the face of the problem.  

Much of this new technology offers benefits for drivers. Advanced mapping and navigation systems help drivers get to where they want to go without having to fight with paper maps. And the wide array of music and news apps provide drivers with new listening options in addition to the standard radio. But too much of the focus today seems to be on providing drivers with the same features and connectivity as they have on their smartphones.

The goal of today’s gathering is to urge all of you to take responsibility for bringing drivers’ focus back to the road. No more delay. No more excuses. No more finger-pointing. This is a profound public-safety issue that is literally a matter of life or death. It’s time the companies in this room work expeditiously and cooperatively to do some simple things to reduce distracted driving. I know that my colleagues will have questions, but I’d like to focus my inquiry on two particular issues.

  1. Teen drivers are in a category of their own – they are inexperienced and probably more tethered to their smartphones than other groups. I want to know what your companies can do to create simple, default means for parents to flat-out disable non-essential activities like talking on the phone, texting, and updating social networking profiles?
  2. I would like to impress on you the real responsibility you have for safety. As your companies build infotainment systems for drivers, are you seriously considering whether the activities those systems allow is appropriate? I think it is irresponsible for companies to feed into consumers’ almost pathological need for connectivity without regard for the safety implications. The car is a unique environment – it’s not a park bench or a subway station – and the driver’s attention is needed on the road.